Live from #SMX East 2014: Competitive Research For SEO

By Matt Weltz | Sep 30, 2014
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SMX East Competitive SEOAre you driven to win when it comes to SEO? According to Casie Gillette, that is one of many questions you will need to ask yourself (and answer Yes) to beat your competition. Casie, Paxton Gray, and Dennis Hart provided insightful information during their session at SMX East on a variety of strategies, tools, and goals needed to investigate how your competitors find success. I will summarize their presentations to help you beat your competition and dominate search results.

Dennis Hart, President at Analytics SEO (@click2dennis)

Dennis discussed different ways to see what your competition is doing. Specifically, he mentioned the need to lay out keywords you and your competitors are and aren’t ranking on to see overlap and opportunities. In addition, he provided insight into where to look to find out what your competitors are doing. Here is the list of areas to check to investigate how your competition is approaching SEO:

  • Competitive audit site metrics to explore:
    • Site Map
    • txt
    • Page load speed
    • Custom 404
    • Domain age
    • Alexa rank


In addition, Dennis asserts that you can gain additional information by diving into these readily available metrics:

  • Inbound links
  • Referring Domains
  • Referring IPs
  • Referring subnets
  • Deep link ratio

Dennis also provided insights into some other popular methods. Here some of his sentiments:

  • You can ask clients who the competition is, but could end up with terrestrial distortion (Bias based on clients location and perceived industry)
  • Check the first page of search results and see who is ranking, but be wary of “market distortion” (By market distortion concerns, he means avoid identifying competitors that are way too big or small, and avoid keywords you won’t realistically rank on)
  • Remember, if you are doing well others are trying to beat you as well

He also went on to say that “search is no longer just about 10 blue links.” To optimize for local search he made the following simple recommendations:

  • Set up places Google+ Business Pages
  • Add categories, descriptions and images
  • Hope you’ve done it right; Check later

One final opportunity he mentioned was to reach out to the sites that are linking to your competitors and get them to link to you since the industry is clearly of interest to them.

Casie Gillette, Director of Online Marketing at KoMarketing (@casieg)

Casie provided a list of tools that can be used to essentially spy on your competition to see what they are doing, what is working for them, and what their priorities are. According to her, source code provides a great opportunity for insights into what your competition is doing. Here are some of the specific areas she recommended to investigate:

  • SEO Plugins
  • A/B Testing Code
  • Schema Markup
  • Open Graph Tags
  • AdWords
  • Analytics

Casie also recommended a series of tools that make it easier to do a competitive analysis. Here is a list of some of the most useful tools she recommends:

  • TrackedContent: Notifies you when an HTML change is made on a page
  • Open Site Explorer – Moz: Gives you link data, anchor text, etc.
  • Majestic: Great linking insights and more
  • Research Central: Combines many different tools in a comprehensive report
    • Also has a tool called semantic analyzer to see what keywords a page is focusing on
  • Screaming Frog: Comprehensive list of URLs on a site
  • Bonus tools:
    • Open Site Explorer
    • SEM Rush
    • Moz Ranking Tracker
    • BuzzSumo
    • Facebook Pages to Watch
    • Topsy

Paxton Gray, Lead Digital Marketer at 97th Floor (@paxtonmgray)

Paxton provided his general best practices for getting the most out of and prioritizing your keyword optimization efforts, along with his company’s specific strategies for ranking. While I won’t go into his company’s specific ranking system, in general Paxton recommends the following 5 step approach for keyword optimization:

  1. Keyword Research: Find the data on traffic and competition for your keywords
  2. Gather Metrics: Organize the data in an easily digestible manner
  3. Identify On-Page Wins: Look for opportunities in current and potential content
  4. Link Gap Score: Provide a value to keywords based on traffic and competition levels
  5. Link Building Battle Plans: How to best utilize your research to prioritize keywords

Overall, each presenter provided a unique perspective on how to beat the competition. The main takeaways were to use tools to see what your competition is doing, learn from them, and ensure your efforts are focused on unique keyword opportunities that will provide the most bang for your buck.

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